ROAR: “Investigative reporters should have status of law enforcement officers”

Punishment for crimes against journalists may be toughened as the president promises that the attack on Kommersant reporter Oleg Kashin will be solved.

President Dmitry Medvedev said on Monday that Kashin’s attackers will be found, despite many doubting it. “Such crimes are resolved,” Medvedev said, meeting with journalists of Rossiyskaya Gazeta daily. The government’s newspaper is celebrating its 20th anniversary.

The attack “indicates that the level of crime in our country is still very high and there are forces that believe that such methods can be used to silence anyone, a journalist or a politician,” Medvedev said.

In early November, two more journalists – Anatoly Adamchuk and Sergey Mikhailov – and environmental activist Konstantin Fetisov were attacked in Russia. Many believe the crimes are linked to their professional activities.

Journalists need more protection from the state, Medvedev said on Monday. Meanwhile, many suggest that punishment should be toughened for attacks against reporters.

The Presidential Council for Civil Society Institutions Development and Human Rights is ready to submit draft amendments to the Criminal Code, to the head of state. The present legislation mentions crimes against individuals fulfilling their public duties, the council’s chairman Mikhail Fedotov said. However, it does not specify these people’s areas of activity, he told Ekho Moskvy radio. According to Fedotov, journalists, human rights activists and environmentalists should be paid more attention.

State Duma deputy Boris Reznik also supported tougher measures against those attacking journalists. Special punishment should be used against those who commit crimes against political, public figures and reporters, he told the radio station. According to the deputy, the lower house of parliament will consider the issue at the next meeting.

Another deputy, Gennady Gudkov, believes that journalists involved in investigative activities “must have the status similar to that of officers of law enforcement agencies.”

Toughening punishment for crimes against reporters is not enough, if the efficiency of solving such cases is not increased, Gudkov told Interfax news agency. The status of those involved in investigative journalism should be equated to the status of law enforcement officers rather than politicians and public figures, he noted. In this case, crimes against reporters could be investigated like those against officers, he said. In many cases, the work of law enforcement agencies investigating attacks against reporters has not been effective, he added.

Oleg Orlov, head of Memorial Human Rights Center, agrees that the work of law enforcement agencies should be more efficient. “Toughening punishment will not bring results if masterminds of an attack are not found and the case is not brought to court,” he told the agency.

“It’s perfectly clear that the attack on journalist Oleg Kashin is linked with his professional activity,” said Ivan Melnikov, deputy speaker of the State Duma and first deputy chairman of the Communist Party. The party supports all the reporters’ actions protesting violence on the representatives of this profession, Itar-Tass news agency quoted the deputy as saying.

“Freedom of expression is our common achievement,” Federation Council speaker Sergey Mironov noted, adding that nobody has the right to interfere with journalists’ performing their professional activity. The politician described the attack as “an attempt to punish the reporter.” Not only the perpetrators but also “the mastermind of this crime would be found and punished in accordance with the law,” he said, as reported by Itar-Tass.

Several countries and international organizations have condemned the attack. The US State Department called on Russian authorities “to bring the perpetrators of this heinous crime to justice.” Journalists around the world “must feel free to do their jobs without fear of intimidation or physical violence,” Assistant Secretary Philip J. Crowley said on Monday.

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) sent a letter to the Russian Foreign Ministry to condemn the recent attacks on journalists. “Failure to prosecute those responsible for attacks against journalists breeds violence and has a chilling effect on investigative journalism,” said Dunja Mijatovic the OSCE representative on freedom of the media.

The Union of Journalists of Russia intends to raise the question of unpunished attacks at the upcoming international conference “Protecting the Future of Journalism in Eastern Europe,” Itar-Tass said. The union will hold the event in Moscow in December together with the International Federation of Journalists, the OSCE and the Council of Europe.

­Sergey Borisov,Russian Opinion and Analysis Review, RT